The Salt of the Earth

The gospel reading for today, “You are the salt of the earth,” etc. struck me as curiously complementary to Percy’s discussion of reentry strategies in Lost in the Cosmos 14, “The Orbiting Self,” especially in relation to option number 10 — reentry under the direct sponsorship of God:

It is theoretically possible, if practically extremely difficult, to reenter the world and become an intact self through the reentry mode Kierkegaard described when he noted that “the self can only become itself if it does so transparently before God.” This is in fact according to both Kierkegaard and Pascal, the only viable mode of reentry, the others being snares and delusions.

There are at least two reasons, having to do with the nature of the age, why this option is so difficult.

One is that from the abstracted perspective of the sciences and arts — an attitude of self-effacing objectivity which through the spectacular triumph of science has become the natural stance of the educated man — God, if he is taken to exist at all, is perforce understood as simply another item in the world which one duly observes, takes note of, and stands over against.

The other reason is that the God-party, at least those who say “Lord Lord” most often, are so ignorant and obnoxious that most educated people want no part of them. If they’re for it, then I can’t go far wrong in being against it.

It is true that both St. Paul and God are on record as preferring simple folk to the overeducated, especially philosophers. But media preachers have little reason to take comfort. Being uneducated is no guarantee against being obnoxious.

Question: Who is the most obnoxious, Protestants, Catholics, or Jews?

Answer: It depends on where you are and who you are talking to — though it is hard to conceive any one of the three consistently outdoing the other two in obnoxiousness. Yet, as obnoxious as are all three, none is as murderous as the autonomous self who, believing in nothing, can fall prey to ideology and kill millions of people — unwanted people, old people, sick people, useless people, unborn people, enemies of the state — and do so reasonably, without passion. Adolf Eichmann was a good family man, a devoted husband and father.

Religion, at any rate, has been having a bad time of it lately, perhaps for good and sufficient reason. by and large, scientists and artists and the autonomous self have gotten rid of God, whether or not for good reason, whether or not with catastrophic consequences, remains to be seen.

In any case, reentry into ordinary life, into concrete place and time, from the strange abstractions of the twentieth century, the reentry undertaken under the direct sponsorship of god, is a difficult if not nigh-impossible task. Yet there have existed, so I have heard, a few writers even in this day and age who have become themselves transparently before God and managed to live intact through difficult lives, e.g., Simone Weil, Martin Buber, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Some have even outdone Kierkegaard and seen both creation and art as the Chartres sculptor did, as both dense and mysterious, gratuitous, anagogic, and sacramental, e.g., Flannery O’Connor.

Flannery, Simone, Martin, Dietrich, Soren, Walker, pray for us. Heart of Jesus, desire of the everlasting hills, have mercy on us.

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